Atletico spoils Real Madrid's first game post-Ronaldo in wild UEFA Super Cup

Saul celebrates his extra-time winner for Atletico Madrid against Real Madrid in the 2018 UEFA Super Cup. (Getty)

Super cups, more often than not, can be snoozers. Wednesday’s UEFA Super Cup, between the winners of last year’s Champions League and Europa League, was decidedly not.

The first Madrid Derby of the season – which doubled as Real Madrid’s first game of its post-Cristiano Ronaldo era and tripled as a semi-meaningful battle for European supremacy – lived up to every ounce of its billing. Atletico Madrid, ahead after less than a minute, then behind with 15 to go, staged an ascendant comeback to carry it to victory.

Ninety minutes of normal time that seemingly had everything ended 2-2. In extra time, two wonderful Atleti goals from Saul and Koke gave the reigning Europa League champs a 4-2 victory to kick off the continental season.

Saul’s video game-esque volley turned out to be the winner:


Koke put the game away before halftime in extra time with a tidy finish:


For a Real Madrid team looking to move on from the player who defined it for almost a decade, the final scoreline was somewhat alarming. The second and third conceded goals were either foolish, sloppy or both.

But there is no need to overreact to an event that lives on the fringes of preseason and regular season. There is a need to marvel at Atleti. More than anything, Wednesday’s match was simply great fun.

Diego Costa was in vintage villain mode

Diego Costa might be the most entertaining player in the world. He’s simultaneously infuriating, especially if you’re on the wrong side of his antics. But those antics are glorious, because they’re so wide-ranging.

They include ridiculous goals from tight angles. Costa, one on two, beat Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos 45 seconds into Wednesday’s match, then fired the earliest goal in UEFA Super Cup history past Keylor Navas:


Costa’s shot skimmed off the near post on its way in. Perhaps Navas – who’s expected to lose his starting gig to Thibaut Courtois soon – could have done better. But this was more about Costa unearthing his 2016-17 form and conjuring goals out of nothing than any Real shortcomings.

Later, with Atletico down 2-1 and 12 minutes from defeat, Costa leveled the score:


In between, though, an equally important facet of villainous Costa emerged. He sparred with Sergio Ramos intermittently throughout the match. He took an elbow to the head and writhed. Later, he feigned pain and provoked Real players. He accidentally stepped on Ramos’ head. He had a small scrap with Dani Carvajal out of bounds after a play.

Costa has no equal in world soccer. On his day, he’s both a nuisance and a joy to watch.

Our first true glimpse of Lopetegui’s Madrid

Wednesday wasn’t just Real’s first official game of the AC era – After Cristiano. Perhaps more importantly, it was the first under new head coach Julen Lopetegui. And Lopetegui – who joined amid controversy after two unbeaten years in charge of the Spanish national team – brings a tactical philosophy much different than that of Zinedine Zidane.

Real Madrid, therefore, will be different under Loptegui, and was different Wednesday. Los Blancos seemed more intent on keeping the ball, and, crucially, more intent on winning it back when they lost it.

A unique feature of Zidane’s teams, at least among the modern elite, was their reluctance to press. Lopetegui’s side will, and did against Atleti. The favorites were well on top between minutes 15 and 75. Had Marcelo not inexplicably saved a ball from going out of bounds, only to loop it right into the path of Juanfran, reviews of Real’s performance would likely be glowing.

There were plenty of promising signs, especially with Luka Modric on the bench. And Atleti’s second goal didn’t come until Casemiro had exited.

Ramos’ attempt to play out of the back in the seconds that preceded Atleti’s third was careless

The defensive frailties were somewhat worrying. Ramos’ attempt to play out of the back in the seconds that preceded Atleti’s third was careless. Varane – who went 120 minutes less than a month after the World Cup final – wasn’t much better. But it was a decent overall performance.

The beginning of the Benzema bounce-back

Karim Benzema scored five – 5 – La Liga goals last season. In 2,166 minutes. From a goalscoring perspective, it was a nightmarish domestic campaign for the 30-year-old.

It was also likely a fluke.

Benzema’s superficial numbers were a low-end outlier just as 2015-16’s – 24 goals, 0.91 per 90 minutes – were a high-end outlier. But in 2015-16, Benzema’s underlying numbers fell in line with his output. Last year, they didn’t. Benzema roughly matched his Expected Goal tally from the year before, and more than doubled his Expected Assist tally.

In other words, he’s due for a bounce-back, especially with increased goalscoring responsibility in Ronaldo’s absence. And Wednesday was a pretty darn good start. Ronaldo’s exit broke up the “BBC” frontline once and for all, but the “BB” connection showed it can still function. Gareth Bale set up Benzema for Real’s first-half equalizer:


Bale looked great as well. He should have had a second assist to Marco Asensio, who delayed too long when presented with an unobstructed sight at goal on the break.

Bale had license to drift across the front line, and very well could be Real’s premier attacking threat.

Sergio Ramos is apparently Real Madrid’s penalty taker

With Ronaldo gone, the top spot on Real Madrid’s penalty pecking order is vacant. Ramos appears to have taken it …


But after Wednesday, he and Varane have more important responsibilities to sort out.

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Henry Bushnell covers global soccer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell, and on Facebook.

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